Tag Archives: death of a child

Mourning Lincoln, Mourning My Son

Whitman’s mourning of Lincoln in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” also captures what it feels like to lose a child.

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Singing a Lullaby to a Dead Child

I write about the lullaby I sang to my dead son and a Eugene Field poem it reminds me of.

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Ode Softens Blow of Friend’s Departure

The departure of a friend put me in mind of a John Dryden ode–which led in turn to recalling an intense moment of connection.

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A Child’s Murder, a Humane Vision

“Troubled Water,” a 2008 Norwegian film about a horrendous crime, brings out the depth and humanity of everyone involved.

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Dear Son, Far Off, My Lost Desire

I understand more with each passing year what Tennyson means when he says his love “is vaster passion now” and how Hallam is thoroughly mixed with God and nature. Tennyson goes on to say that the moral will of humankind—the “living will” that is the best part of ourselves as a people—can finding footing on this spiritual rock. And that the living water that springs from this rock will “flow through our deeds and make them pure.”

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Memories of My Son, the Baseball Player

I hope I may be excused for revisiting a poem I have posted on before, along with some of my previous observations about it. It is a sports poem that brings to mind my oldest son, who died 11 years ago on this day. Dabney Stuart’s “Ties” is out of season—it’s about football—and Justin’s sport was baseball. Nevertheless I feel awash in sadness and sweet memory when I read it.

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Life from the Vantage Point of a Deathbed

  I haven’t updated you for a while on my friends Alan and Jackie Paskow, former St. Mary’s colleagues. Alan has been suffering from terminal cancer for close to three years now, and Julia and I visit every Sunday night. Julia performs Reiki massage on Jackie while Alan and I talk. This past Sunday, while […]

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Singing a Lullaby to a Dead Son

From time to time I have reported on my friend Alan, who is dying of cancer but who continues to hold his head up and, to the amazement of us all, refuses to get depressed. We held another one of our salons in his honor this past Thursday. After hearing Alan report on the latest […]

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Blaming Loved Ones in the Face of Death

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child  Imagine the following situation. A couple has been married for decades but now he has contracted a terminal illness and is dying. His wife has always prided herself on being there for him when he needed her, but now she feels helpless. Meanwhile he is scared and angry and is […]

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Dancing to a Bright Star

Film Friday As this is Friday, I begin with a discussion of a film.  But as it is also the tenth anniversary of the drowning death of my 21-year-old son Justin, I plan to digress.  I trust you will allow me to embark on a bit of a ramble. The film I have chosen is […]

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Should Death Be Proud or Not?

John Donne               Last December, in writing on Margaret Edson’s play W;t, I noted that I didn’t think John Donne’s famous sonnet “Death Be Not Proud” would be very useful in helping someone handle death.  (The dying Donne scholar in W;t doesn’t turn to it.)  Since then, a friend pointed out that John Gunther’s 1949 book […]

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Terabithia and Coping with Loss

Last week my library discussion group talked about the children’s classic and Newberry award winner Bridge to Terabithia (1977), by Katherine Paterson.  It has been our tradition each December to choose a children’s book in honor of the holiday season. Bridge to Terabithia, we discovered, fits the season well.  Warning: I reveal the ending in […]

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Trusting that Good Can Come from Ill

Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus What have I learned about literature and pain this past week? First, that writers have taken up the topic, just as they take up every aspect of human existence. They imagine what it is like to feel pain and, through poetic images and fictional stories, convey that experience to readers. By entering […]

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Death and Language’s Limitations

In spending the last two weeks discussing how poetry can come to our aid in a season of death, I have been exploring how poetry responds to its greatest test. Death and dying can trigger our deepest fears, generate panic, denial and anger, prompt us to question everything we believe in, and send on frantic […]

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A Death Poem Must Acknowledge the Pain

For today’s entry on poems that can come to our aid when we are confronting death, I will be looking at two. In both poems, the speaker has lost a loved one. One of them, which I have known and loved since high school and whose sentiments I agree with, now angers me. The other, […]

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Can Pastoral Elegies Ease the Pain?

In a grad school class I once heard Peter Lehmann, a friend of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, say that, during the London blitzkrieg of 1940-41, all the London bookshops sold out their poetry. This means, I think, that in times of tragedy we turn to poetry for solace. It’s like the way that people who […]

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Poetry in the Face of Death

  Because of my concerns over my friend Alan and his cancer, I will spend another week looking at the role that poetry can play as we confront death and dying. Today’s entry describes how poetry made its way into my life following the death of my son Justin, described in last week’s opening entry […]

Posted in Auden (W. H.), Borges (Jorge Luis), Oliver (Mary) | Also tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

On Accepting Death and Living Life

The German philosopher Heidegger argues that, by refusing to face up to the fact that we are going to die, we human beings cut ourselves off from life as well. Essentially, by seeing death as a horrible thing, we deny that we are natural beings in a natural world. In so doing, Heidegger goes on […]

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Gawain’s Castle of Life and Death

In the weeks following my son Justin’s death, after the funeral and the memorial service and the departure of friends and relatives, I retreated into my study (it was summer vacation). I had to do something so I returned to a book I had begun writing on “how classic British literature can change your life.” […]

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The Death of My Oldest Son

I am devoting this week to a work that came to my aid when I was dealing with the death of my oldest son nine years ago. I will introduce you to Justin and then describe how a medieval romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, helped give me images and a framework for the […]

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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